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  • Forgotten Gems #3: Blast Corps

    November 23rd, 2017GamespotUncategorized

    Back in the 1990s there were certain game developers that seemed to be above the rest of the industry when it came to creating the era's most well regarded games, such as Squaresoft and Blizzard. Among those select few was a certain British company by the name of Rare. For most of the decade Rare was second only to Nintendo itself in terms of importance and game quality on Nintendo's home consoles.

    Throughout the 90s Rare created some of the most beloved and unique titles for the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64, many of which became each console's top selling releases. Among these were the Donkey Kong Country series, Banjo-Kazooie, Diddy Kong Racing, Goldeneye 007 and Killer Instinct. However, in between these massive successes which the company was producing on a seemingly yearly basis, Rare also released a few games that, while still very well received, didn't quite reach that same level of success and recognition. One of these was an N64 classic by the name of Blast Corps.


    Blast Corps – Buildings Are Overrated


    By 1997 the rivalry between the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64 was in full swing, with both consoles experiencing great sales success at the time, with the N64 even outselling its competition in the US throughout most of 1997. At the same time Rare had been establishing itself as one of the premier video game developers in the world with games like Donkey Kong Country and Killer Instinct, and as a result expectations for its future games on Nintendo's new, more powerful console were very high.

    Around the mid-90s, when the console market was making the jump to this new generation, Rare split into several different teams, each working on one project at a time. As a result, when the N64 was released in 1996 Rare already had several games in development for the system. The first to be released was Killer Instinct Gold, but the one that came right after was an entirely new IP and nobody really knew what to expect from it. That title was Blast Corps.


    Still, because it was Rare's first genuinely new title on the system, expectations for it were naturally quite high, after all the company had in just the last few years developed some of the most successful SNES titles ever made. Nothing really gave fans reason to doubt that the company's transition to the new platform would produce different results.

    Beginning in early 1996, the game's development was originally handled by a team of just four people, all of whom were recent graduates with little to no prior experience in video game development. Eventually the team grew to include seven people, with Martin Wakeley serving as the game's lead designer. Interestingly, the idea for the game actually game from Chris Stamper, one of Rare's founders, who had wanted to make a game about destroying buildings for a long time already.


    The reason for this desire? Because knocking down buildings is fun, and doing so in a game just makes sense. The entire development process of the game was based upon that simple idea. All that was needed after that was a reason for the destruction, and a runaway nuclear missile carrier that explodes upon the slightest contact was what they eventually decided upon.

    The game's story is more or less just a thinly veiled excuse to destroy things. A nuclear missile carrier has lost control and if it touches anything the missiles will explode and destroy everything around them. So naturally the player is tasked with clearing a path for the carrier by destroying any and every building that stands in its way. Even with such a silly idea, the back story actually goes into surprising detail about the creation of the Blast Corps team and the events that led to the present situation. The story won't win any prizes for depth, but it's certainly different, and as far as excuses to blow up as much stuff as possible in a video game go, it's as good as any.


    Not that the story really matters, as it's the gameplay that's the true star in Blast Corps. Starting with a few simple vehicles like a bulldozer and a dump truck, the player is quickly given access to all kinds of different tools of destruction, from a missile shooting tricycle to three different kinds of robots and more. Every single vehicle is different in how it is used to destroy buildings, making for a hugely varied gameplay experience as especially early on you'll be using a different vehicle in every new mission. The game also offers some brief breaks between the building destruction with racing levels.

    Accentuating this is excellent level design that slowly ramps up the difficulty over the course of the game. The early levels are relatively simple and straightforward undertakings where the player just needs to clear a straight path from beginning to end, but later the player will have to swap between different vehicles, using trains and cranes to transport them across otherwise impassable terrain, and make use of explosives to clear a path for the carrier. Additionally, the player is usually given a choice of several different stages, instead of forcing them down one specific path.


    In many ways, even though it doesn't really feel like one, Blast Corps is more like a puzzle game than an action one, albeit one where the goal of every increasingly elaborate puzzle is to find a way to destroy more things with the massive vehicles at your disposal. Then, once a mission has been cleared, players can return back to them without the threat of a nuclear explosion and just go ballistic.

    You can destroy any buildings still left standing and complete various other challenges found in each level. Most levels also contain at least one secret location for the player to find. This turns what was a fast-paced puzzle-action hybrid into an exploration game, increasing its replay value immensely, as no single level is ever truly finished after just one try. 


    Blast Corps was eventually released in March of 1997 in Japan and the US, and received excellent reviews from most critics. However, its sales fell far below Rare's expectations, topping off at under 1 million copies, which was nowhere near what Rare's previous titles on Nintendo's consoles had sold. High praise and the Rare name were not enough to make the game a resounding success.


    Why Was Blast Corps Forgotten?


    For a number of reasons, but one very significant one was that it was simply lost in the shuffle amidst a number of higher profile releases, not just in general, but from Rare as well. Just a few months earlier Rare had released Killer Instinct Gold on the N64, and within the next nine months the company would also go on to release both Goldeneye 007 and Diddy Kong Racing, all three of which received much greater attention from fans at the time, even if many didn't necessarily expect much from Goldeneye at first. 

    Not to mention the fact that the game was also released very close to Mario Kart 64, Starfox 64, and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. The N64 release schedule was simply too stacked with high profile releases at that specific point in time, with Rare itself and Nintendo being the main culprits. Blast Corps proved to be one of Rare's few relative commercial failures during its peak years in the 90s, and as it would soon be followed by two of the developer's biggest successes on the N64, the game was soon brushed to the side and largely forgotten.

    Blast Corps more or less just ended up a victim of circumstance, being an unknown game released around the same time as new entries in some of the most widely recognised and well-known video game franchises of the era. For a game like this, even one made by Rare, it was just too much competition.


    What Makes Blast Corps Still Worth Remembering?


    For one, it's an absolute blast (pun very much intended) to play. There are very few things quite as satisfying in the realm of video games as using a bulldozer to literally drive through buildings to clear a way for a vehicle carrying nuclear warheads that will explode on contact with anything. It's an absolutely preposterous concept, and for that very reason is just so much fun. The game features a huge variety of different vehicles to use, each with their own way of taking down buildings of various sizes, ensuring that everyone will find their own favourites to use very quickly.


    The concept itself is also something that has never really been done since, making Blast Corps quite possible the only game of its kind. When you really think about it, Blast Corps is basically a game about destroying a bunch of stuff so a nuclear explosion doesn't destroy that stuff instead. That alone makes it worth playing, but the fact that it is one of the best titles from a company which at the time was seemingly making one masterpiece after another speaks volumes about the game's quality.

    In addition, unlike many other games of the era, Blast Corps has actually aged quite gracefully, even if the graphics are naturally dated by today's standards. By making its look somewhat stylized, Rare was able to bypass many of the limitations of the hardware. It also doesn't really suffer from the camera problems many other 3D games at the time did, and for the most part the gameplay is still just as sharp as it was when first released. There's also a constant undercurrent of Rare's trademark humour on display, albeit not quite as prominently as in many of its other releases around this time.


    Finally, I must also commend the soundtrack, composed by Graeme Norgate. The music in the game is probably best described as upbeat jazz, with a number of other music styles mixed in, including but not limited to country, rock, and pop. It's not exactly something you might expect from a game like this, but Norgate managed to make it sound like a perfect fit. He would of course later go on to compose music for a number of high profile titles such as Goldeneye 007, TimeSplitters, and Crysis.

    If you are or were a fan of Rare during its peak period but never got around to playing Blast Corps then I highly recommend you finally do so. It's among the company's best games from a period when it was arguably one of the top 5 developers in the world in terms of game quality. Blast Corps was also re-released as part of the Rare Replay collection for the Xbox One in 2015, with many people calling it the highlight of the entire collection. The collection is probably the best way to play the game today, as the only other official release is the original N64 version, which is likely very difficult to find these days.



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